By Suzanne Le Mignot

CHICAGO (CBS) — Jake Lavin of Arlington Heights lost his John Hersey High schoolmate Nick Spaid to suicide in 2017. Now Lavin, who is just 20 years old, is making it his mission to end the stigma behind mental illness through the clothing and accessories company he founded called The Happiness Project.

CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot spoke with him about his passion, which he dropped out of school to pursue.

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“The company was started in 2017 after a student in my high school, Nick Spaid, lost his own life, due to mental illness. And I was inspired to make a change to help kids just like him,” Lavin said. “I started making clothes in 2017, hoping to bring awareness, but this year it’s really taken off. We’ve received so much, comments every day and people’s feedback, saying that what we’re doing is really helping them. On our social media we post a lot of mental health posts, positivity, and our main goal is just to save, even if we save one life, that’s all we care about.”

Lavin said the designs on the clothes were handwritten by him a few years ago.

“We really took it to another extent this summer by hand dyeing them, me, my partner Joey and Mike. We were out there for hours every single day, setting up tents, doing 700 hoodies a day, sweating. It was a crazy summer, but it was worth it because that’s kind of what elevated our brand to the next level.

Social media has helped, and Lavin’s brand has caught the attention of a lot of celebrities. Celebrities including Zedd, NLE Choppa, Louis the Child, and Kendall Vertes have worn the clothes, Lavin said.

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“The support from them has been unreal,” he said.

Fifteen percent of profits goes to mental health organizations.

“Last year we donated to NAMI and we donated $50,000 in a year, so we were excited about that. This year, we’re donating to AFSP, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.”

Nick’s mom Kim Spaid thinks The Happiness Project is incredible. 

“Losing my son to suicide was devastating,” she said. “It was devastating for me. It was devastating for the community, and you know, he only lived to 17, so he didn’t get to live a life. To have a legacy to be attached to something positive or something positive to come out of his death, it’s incredible for me as a mother. It’s a legacy for my son, and I’m grateful to Jake that he’s including Nick in it.”

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Kim Spaid said her son Nick hid his depression from everyone. She said her firstborn always gave the appearance of having it all together. She wants young people to know they are not alone, and they can reach out for helping, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suzanne Le Mignot